The young and the old collide in Super Bowl LIII, the climatic game of the 2018-2019 NFL season. The Los Angeles Rams, headed by the youngest coach in the NFL, Sean McVay, and the New England Patriots, coached by playoff veteran Bill Belichick, will face off next Sunday in what is primed to be an offensive battle. As football fans, or really anyone, will note, the Patriots and their legendary quarterback Tom Brady are no stranger to the playoffs. Brady has been to 9 Super Bowls in his storied career, more than doubling any other quarterbacks’ appearances aside from John Elway, who played in 5. Brady owns an NFL high 5 Super Bowl rings, and he has become the top candidate among both fans and his haters for the best quarterback of all time. His opponent, Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff, has fewer seasons playing in the NFL, 3, then Brady has super bowl rings. Goff had something of a coming out season last year, following a disappointing rookie season that had several fans questioning the high draft pick spent on him. He took another leap skill-wise this year, and Goff was elected to the pro-bowl and, at one point, was considered for the prestigious award of league MVP. However, the differences in age and experience of the quarterbacks competing do not tell the whole story when analyzing this matchup.
Before getting to the Patriots-Rams game, it is important to note the controversies in the previous week that determined the teams involved in the coveted Super Bowl. In both Championship games, referees were criticized for missed calls that all but determined the winners of the game. In the Patriots-Chiefs faceoff, several calls were left on the field, but one flag that was thrown is under more severe scrutiny. A “roughing the passer” call against Chief’s defensive lineman Chris Jones upon examination was simply a relatively light hit against Brady’s chest, not an illegal hit to the head. However, in the game, the referees tacked an additional 15 yards onto the high-flying Patriots drive late in the 4thquarter. This drive would eventually end in a touchdown, and it left fans wondering what could have been if a more accurate call had been made. However, this pales in comparison to the equally atrocious call in the Rams-Saints game which has garnered nationwide criticism, threats of suing the NFL, and even pleas for the game to be replayed. The play in mention occurred with around 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter on a third down play for the Saints in the red zone. The game was tied and scoring a touchdown would greatly help the Saints notch a victory that would send them to the Super Bowl. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw the ball, but before it could reach the intended target, wide receiver Tommy Lee Lewis, Lewis was hit by Ram’s cornerback Nickell Robey Coleman with clear helmet to helmet contact. Typically, and within the rules of the NFL, this hit broke multiple rules and was eligible for multiple flags. Robey-Coleman got to the ball too early, a hint for defensive pass interference, and he initiated helmet-to-helmet contact, an action the NFL is cracking down on and should have been called as a personal foul. The Saints settled for a field goal, and the Rams ended up winning the game in overtime, denying the Saints a victory that likely would have been theirs’. The collective drama from these games has colored the Super Bowl an interesting shade. Some people believe a different combination of teams should be prepping for a world title this week within the rules of the NFL. However, despite claims that games should be replayed, the past cannot be changed, and, for better or worse, the Rams and Patriots will battle for superiority, while the Saints and Chiefs watch from home.
Though the frustration of the aforementioned teams is a hot topic right now, it will fade as the Super Bowl grows closer and closer in order to focus on the teams playing: the Rams and the Patriots. Seasoned NFL fans will note that this is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, where the Patriots bested the Rams by a mere three points. This epic game was actually Brady’s first super bowl, and it was one important step in establishing Brady as the best to ever play the game. Though Brady will be present in the 2019 faceoff, the team surrounding him has completely changed, as has the Ram’s roster. During the regular season and the playoffs leading up to this year’s Super Bowl, both the Patriots and the Rams have established themselves as offensive forces to be reckoned with. Both teams were top 5 in the entire league for points per game and yards per game. They also dominated in the ever-important run game, where potential league MVP Todd Gurley racked up an NFL high 17 rushing touchdowns for the Rams, and the Patriot’s now elite offensive line has aided the three headed monster of a backfield that includes rookie standout Sony Michel, pass-catching star James White, and the reliable Rex Burkhead. In other words, putting up points has hardly been an issue for either team. Giving up points, on the other hand, has been a bit more inconsistent. The Rams huddle toward the middle of defensive stat categories, including a 20thin points per game and 23rdin rush yards per game. The Patriots have adapted a bend-don’t break defense that has led them to allow a respectable 20.3 points per game, but they give up a lot of yardage, which could be costly against an offense loaded with firepower. On paper, the teams are evenly matched: high-flying offenses occasionally crippled by a mediocre defense. However, the outcome of the Super Bowl likely will come down to the most overlooked positions in the game to a casual fan of the sport: offensive and defensive linemen.
Both Brady and Goff are exposed as passers under pressure. Brady is not an easy quarterback to come up with a game plan for. He is an elite pocket passer who has been playing football long enough to read nearly any defense like a book. He is deadly accurate and a trained professional in every sense of the word. However, when pressured, he is known to be marginally less accurate and just off balance enough to make an erred throw. Brady is not a threat to run and is no acrobat in escaping pressure. If the Ram’s defensive playmakers, like stud Aaron Donald, can break through that Patriot’s offensive line, it will be easier to slow down the experienced flow of the Patriot’s offense. The Patriots had a field day in last year’s Super Bowl, with Brady throwing for an eye-popping 505 yards. However, when the Eagles brought the pressure in the 4thquarter, Brandon Graham forced the ultimately game-ending strip sack that would send the Patriots back home ringless. For the Rams, their only true offensive disaster came in Week 14 against the Bears. While the freezing cold temperatures certainly played a role in the loss, the offense’s combustion can certainly be attributed to Goff’s failings that week. The Bears put the pressure on Goff, and he simply had no answer for it. Too many of his throws were way off the mark or sailed into the hands of the wrong team. The Rams could only muster 6 points in that meeting, a point total that will not suffice against Tom Brady. Pressuring Jared Goff could be central to the Patriot’s game plan as well, and whichever team wins these battles may end up winning the war.
Though in so many aspects these teams are evenly matched, the Rams still come in as underdogs. This simply comes down to experience. Super Bowl LIII will be Brady and Belichick’s third consecutive Super Bowl appearance, and several Patriot’s players have also been present in one or more Super Bowls. Audiences know that the Patriots can never be counted out and will always find a way to shock everyone and win the game, no matter the circumstances, as evidenced by the Patriots’ massive 25 point comeback just two years ago. The Rams coach, Sean McVay, is nearly 10 years younger than Brady, and he does not have even close to the coaching experience of Belichick. Fans across the nation are skeptical this spectacle will be another drawn out Patriots victory, a stale sight in the modern NFL. The optimist in me, as well as my tiredness of the Patriots’ successes, will be picking the Rams in the Super Bowl this week. Their offense is strong, and what they lack in experience, I believe, and hope, they will make up with passion and determination on both sides of the ball. Regardless of which team comes out on top, enjoy Super LIII, and may the best team win!